Why #TBEX Matters To Me
Last weekend was TBEX, or Travel Blog Exchange, conference. For those who just travel, this conference may not mean much to you. For those who like to write their experiences down in digital ink, it may be the world…or not.
When I have met new bloggers to the convention and they find out that I’ve had the privilege of having attended all five US TBEX events, inevitably one of the first questions is what keeps me coming back. In some ways, I can feel a little disappointment deep in the back of their throats as they ask, perhaps things aren’t everything they expected it to be. I hoped, by the end, that little bit of doubt/anxiety has gone away and they leave Toronto excited about the experience they had.
The question, for me, however, has been a difficult one to answer. And I’m sure my pregnant pause may have confirmed or enforced their doubt about it. The difficulty in answering that question wasn’t because TBEX isn’t worth it, but because everyone will get something individual out of it.
I have never left a TBEX dissatisfied. The very first TBEX in Chicago had just under 100 people crammed into a room, sitting around large round tables (which, btw, do not make for a good room arrangement). The room overlooked Cloud Gate (the Bean) with large, eastern facing windows. And by “eastern facing windows,” I mean, a room that was bathed in sunlight for all morning. I felt like an Easter ham cooked to the point of perfection, at times.
Every TBEX was a marked improvement upon the previous one.
For those who don’t know the history of TBEX (and I may not know all of the full details), it started as a fork off of Blogher. Kim Mance and a couple of others were attending BlogHer, a conference focused on female bloggers. They had known each other and noticed that they were all blogging about travel related topics and planned on meeting up and put out the word if anyone else was interested in meeting up as well.
There, TBEX was born. For the next 3 conferences, Kim spearheaded the growth and the conference become bigger and better time over time. The beauty of TBEX was Kim’s ability to keep the cost for bloggers low. Technical or Business conferences cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. For example, Apple’s developer conference which starts next week, costs developers $1,600. Early bird tickets for TBEX were $79. Of course, the PR/Sponsors paid a larger bill, so the bulk of the bills are paid by them.
Big thanks to all of the sponsors, they truly make it possible. Vail Resorts, for example, which gave away three trips at this TBEX, was also a sponsor of the very first TBEX in Chicago. American Express had a big presence since the second one, NYC (I apologize if they participated in the first one as well). And, of course, Expedia became a big sponsor last year in Denver (not recalling if they were in Vancouver) and continued that here in Toronto.
The key to TBEX is knowing what you want to get out of it before you arrive.
I’ve been lucky in that with the exception of the very first one, all TBEXs have been in locations which I’ve never been to before. Chicago was were I was born, so it was also a reason to go back to an area which I haven’t been in for almost two decades. So…
1) Visiting A Place I’ve Never Been
The first thing I get out of TBEX is the ability to discover a new location. Because of TBEX, I’ve visited NYC, Vancouver, Denver / Keystone and Toronto. There’s plenty of rumor of where next year will be and if the places floating around are one of them, that’ll be another new location of me.
TBEX has expanded the opportunities for bloggers who are able to come into town early and, perhaps, even stay a little bit after the convention. Since Chicago, the local tourism office has offered free (or price reduced) admission to local attractions. In Toronto, you were able to see local museums, the CN Tower (granted at limited times) or even take advantage of a 7-hour tour to see Niagara, which I took advantage of (Thanks Toronto Bus Company!).
Starting in Vancouver, the Vancouver Tourism group arranged pre-TBEX experiences. Taking advantage of those, I experienced Grouse Mountain and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. TBEX Keystone had unique experiences around Denver, which allowed me to see the only US showing of the Yves Saint Laurent collection tour (I still love 50s/60s era designs). For those who flew into Denver, we had the option to participate in experiences which took us up to Keystone. I took advantage of the “adventure” trek and experience Elitch Gardens (and a couple of rides), Zip-Lining across a stream and doing a ski shot at Loveland Pass on the Continental Divide.
Here in Toronto, I learned about the National Urban Park, learned how to debone a chicken at the St Lawrence Market, take a Photo Walk tour of the China Town area and experience the Toronto Islands from Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre.
And that’s before (or after) the actual convention, so that brings us to…
2) The Sessions Teach and Inspire You
Not counting the Keynotes, there were 40 different sessions over the two days. For some people, they’ll be sitting in their seats manically scribbling notes taking in all the information they can. For others, maybe not so much. Of course, if you try to follow the #TBEX twitter tag, you’ll also realize that most people are also busy tweeting out quotes from the really good sessions.
Let’s be honest, you’re not going to walk out of every sessions with new ideas flowing out of your ears.
Your job is to find the nuggets of information that can be polished into diamonds of ideas. Nobody is going to give you the exactly right idea for you, but when you start combining ideas from different sessions you start thinking of new ways to apply things to your own blogs is when great things happen. I’ve been in sessions where I’ve already heard most of the content given out, but then they say one little thing and my mind starts thinking of ways to implement it on my site.
I think we can all agree that the room size was the big negative of Toronto, but it’s a good/bad thing. There were sessions that were filled to the brim, people sitting in the aisles and standing room only in the back of the room. Certainly those sessions were in high demand, not necessarily a bad problem to have, but, of course, not great for those who wanted to see the session. I know, because I spoke with them, that TBEX wasn’t happy with it either and I’m sure we’ll see a better solution next year.
I have some ideas I’d like to see next year, but in a session we were told nobody reads 1,000 word posts anymore and since I’m already over that, I’ll save those to the end in case you don’t want to read them. But let’s talk about you…
3) Networking, Networking, Networking
Now, I leave this one last because being a painfully shy, introvert kind of person, I’m horrible at this. I’m the person who’ll find a good chair in the corner and amuse myself. Smart phones are a godsend for introverts. I also think that travel bloggers probably skew as a higher percentage towards introvert then the public in general. And for us introverts, this part sucks.
But I also think that generally, Networking is the top reason for TBEX.
I think the outcome of TBEX is building bonds between bloggers of different and similar blogs. It’s important to understand that the blogger sitting next to you isn’t a competitor. All 1,300 of us could write about our experience’s in “iconic” Toronto and still write very unique pieces.
If you’re blog is having a modicum of success, you also have a great opportunity to speed-date with representatives from tourism boards and travel related corporations, maybe get yourself some sponsorship or covered tours. So, practice your pitch for next year. And speaking of next year…
4) What I’d Love to See Next Year
Now these are just my ideas and maybe they’re crazy. That’s okay.
First, I hope that TBEX records all the sessions and makes the sessions available to attendees. Also, those who couldn’t make it could also purchase access to view the sessions. Of course, there’s probably a lot of legality around getting the appropriate rights, etc from the presenters.
Second, I’d love to see an online scheduling system where I can build my schedule related to the account and sync it to my calendar. The benefit of this also gives information to session interest to TBEX so they can schedule appropriately sized rooms.
Finally, website logos and QR Codes on the badges. For me, most people recognize my logo, not necessarily my name. It’s a great logo, I know, I designed it. It’s not so great a name, which was given to me. QR Codes to easily grab the person’s information, which can be configured before hand via the TBEX website. I love my business cards, but the QR Codes would make it even easier to keep things organized. Heck, if I was going to push the envelope on this, a custom app that also allowed me to easily read the code, add notes and pictures would be a big plus.
And with that, I’m done. See ya’ll next year.